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Why Change?
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In California Freemasons On-Line Magazine, MW Arthur Hugland, PGM, wrote an article titled Freemasonry and Its Need for Change. The piece was about declining membership, which cannot be argued; since this is a worldwide issue not just California. As a Grand Lodge officer who sees the wider picture of his jurisdiction, the downward slope is certainly caused of concern. However, being a member who believes in quality against quantity, I oppose the notion of changing Freemasonry for the sake of numbers.

Our Craft was not meant to be large or to be popular. It is neither about “interesting” social activities nor influencing government, financial and educational institution. The call for defining and understanding the purpose of the Craft might shed some light of the root cause of problem--- do we know who we are and what Temple we are building for? Each Mason need to answer that questions in this heart for without understanding the concept of what the Craft is about, changing course is a kin to sailing wherever the wind blows, without destination, without purpose. No one board the ship for the just sake of sailing with other sailors and travelers. One embark on a journey knowing that somewhere and sometime at the end of rough and rugged journey, the voyage will end. A place where he hope to be welcomed and able to present his white lambskin apron in which he can explain each spots stained as record of his travel. Where at the end he may hear the welcoming words, “Well done.”

More often than not, success is always measured in numbers. In the context of declining membership, most of the letters or articles I have seen and read were the expressions of concern of a "dying Fraternity." Like many of the current members, this humble traveler will be extremely glad if more good men flock to join our Fraternity in a hope of making themselves a better man. However, Freemasonry does not have the monopoly of self-improvement while respecting other beliefs. Our Craft will always have "competition" to the pool of good men and to dream of taking them all is just like that word --- dream.

The Fraternity accepts only men, of certain age bracket, “not a madman or a fool” in addition to other requirements. Majority of today’s men are more interested in other worldly interest. The Craft offers a place and opportunity to like-minded men to gather and enjoy each other company. Same rule could then apply to Catholics, Methodist, Muslims, racecar fans, cigarette smokers, and police associations. The Craft welcome only interested men from the “exclusive” pool of good men. They are free to join and most certainly free to leave.

There is nothing wrong for rejecting candidates who do not possess the standard agreed upon by the members. It is wrong to disregard the rule in favor of few who cannot clear the bar against the majority who where subjected to the same rule. Either the rule should be imposed or be replaced.

Watering down the set standards to cater for those who obviously shown inability to meet such requirement is one of the reason why the Fraternity is not retaining and attracting those who should be. Freemasonry is not about community building like Lions or Rotary Clubs, it is not business networking such as Chamber of Commerce and it is not religious support group. While those activities are certainly worthy of their time and efforts, it is not the focus of the Craft. The sprit, which drives a man to join those outstanding organizations, is one of the lessons presented in our Order.

This humble writer submits that our Fraternity is not for everybody and limited only to those who qualifies. Just like military or religious vocation, our Craft is NOT for general population. Not everybody can get in; there are requirements to be met. The lowering of standards such as requirements to be more financially "affordable," and taking anyone who ask without regard to the issue of "bringing honor to our ancient institution" are some of the reasons why members dropped off and some of unintended consequences of quantity approach. People showed up because they like to and not because they have to. Numbers seems irrelevant in the context of maintaining "those truly Masonic ornaments, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth."


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Brother, I agree with most of what you are saying outright. I agree that attempting to recruit just to fill a lodgeroom with warm bodies will inevitably result in disappointment. Masonry will inevitably change, but not right away. Many of our elder brothers came into the craft when it was at its numerical peak, and when the craft had a much more visible presence in community and government.

Back then, we had a lot more masons in government.

I agree that we cannot afford to lower our standards. In fact, I am very much against letting in just any old joe. Of course, what constitutes "any old joe" will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

In my own experience, young men now considering entering the craft grew up in a far different world than their elder counterparts. Their interest in the craft is rooted in far different areas than many of their elder bretheren. many are interested in esoterica. Many see "traditional" America rotting from within. Many are very much aware of how the craft worked to promulgate democracy, both in the US and elsewhere.

And this, brother, is where I beg to differ.

At a Masonic convention in Queens, NYC, we were separated into small discussion groups and asked to come up with some sort of vision for the future. My group consisted of younger (ie 21-45) masons. One brother actually suggested (and I quote) that "Masonry needs to become DANGEROUS again"! The entire group knew what he was getting at, and there was unanimous agreement.

You mention influencung government as something the craft should steer clear of. Yes, influencing government as a common lobbyist might is certainly NOT what the craft is about. That reduces the craft to another lobby group with a less-than-clear agenda. But what about influencing SOCIETY?

Where we differ from nearly every other fraternal, political, and social organization, however, is in the fact that we are an ESOTERIC society. Our lessons run deeper and more universal than those of any other similar group (most of which took their cue from masonry in the first place) and our obligations admonish us to better ourselves. But why?

I have an answer to that. BECAUSE OUR SOCIETY PRESENTLY NEEDS BETTER MEN MORE THAN EVER! We read daily of brazen corruption and immorality in our highest institutions. We read of a society ever more demanding of instant gratification. We live in a world where escapism is the answer for many. We live in the information age, yet ignorance seems more pervasive than almost any time in the past two centuries. In short, we are living in a politically correct, morally bankrupt society. Masonry has ALWAYS stood against moral bankruptcy and ignorance, and perhaps THAT is where the "good fight" for the future of both the craft AND our society should begin.

The craft has been "at refreshment" too long, and our "work" is piling up FAST. There are less craftsmen to do that necessary work, and I daresay some, perhaps many, of us may have become a bit rusty in our craftsmanship and even a bit less particular about what constitutes a "perfect ashlar".

Taking our vast knowledge and applying it to society is what needs to be done. Perhaps the boat needs to be rocked in order to make this happen. It needs to start in the lodgeroom before it trickles up to the boardroom and the halls of government and trickles sideways into the fabric of everyday life. we need to consider speaking out more vocally against societal rot. We need to find "like-minded men"...workmen ready and willing not merely to discuss building, but to BUILD...and entice them not with "interesting social activities" but with masonry's OBLIGATION to fight ignorance, injustice, societal ambivalence...and we need such men in our ranks to help us determine just how, when. and where we must do this. Perhaps we must seek these men out, NOT with cheap advertising but individually, as we encounter them in everyday life.

We members of the craft, however, must be willing to take up and lead this fight if we are to attract such men. We must risk possible contention in the craft, but in the end we will (as we always have) agree who can best lead the work.

If the craft doesn't, then some other organization, perhaps not one as universal or as tolerant, will...

"Ad Astra Per Aspera"

Forest Hills Community Lodge No. 946
Queens, NYC, New York

Scottish Rite Valley of Long Island
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